Thursday, 11 June 2015

All the way to Aylesbury

To blog readers of a nervous disposition, apologies for keeping you in suspense over whether or not we survived the tidal Thames ... in short, we did.

First, we had to get back to London after our trip up the rivers Lee and Stort. We were joined from Cheshunt by Victoria's mum & dad who came with us down to Enfield.

From there it was an easy day back to Limehouse Basin, passing the Olympic park in Stratford.

At Limehouse we were pleased to see two other narrowboats who were also booked to go out on the tideway the following day, so at least we wouldn't be on our own.

We spent the afternoon preparing for the big trip the following day - anchor readied, VHF radio checked, lifejackets out and plenty of tea on standby! Then we retired to the pub for some Dutch courage.

The following morning came and conditions couldn't have been better - still, sunny weather and a very quiet river Thames waiting the far side of Limehouse lock. We entered the lock bang on 7am and were soon lowered down to the Thames below. We bravely let the other two narrowboats out first to lead the way.

The Thames outside the lock wasn't exactly like a mill-pond but there were no waves and rolling washes like we'd experienced last time we did this, in 2012. Great view of Canary Wharf from the river in the photo below, although you can see Victoria is holding on with both hands as there was some swell on the river despite the calm conditions.

Note to boaters, we'd aimed for a day when the tide was early in the morning so there were fewer trip boats or high speed RIB's around and this definitely paid off - a narrowboat needs all the help it can get on the tideway!

The tide carried us away from Limehouse and we soon came to Tower Bridge, which marks the first of the major London landmarks.

After this they come thick and fast but, unlike 2012, we were relaxed enough this time to take it in and enjoy the experience!

Around Vauxhall Bridge the river calms down as there are much fewer trip boats in this area. What there are, however, is huge tugs towing barges of containers. We met one of these approaching Vauxhall Bridge and had to make a last minute change of course as the tugs have priority over the navigation channel of the river. When one of these things is heading for you, you get out of the way!

There are building works near Battersea power station at the moment and plenty of tugs were coming in and out from the wharf there and turning in the river. We had the strange experience of moving too fast in a narrowboat when one turned in front of us and we found ourselves bearing down on it with the tide carrying us faster than we would've liked.

Drama over, we carried on through some of the posher bits of London and soon saw the statue at Brentford which marks the entrance to the Grand Union canal.

We caught the lock keeper at Thames Lock napping but were soon up and on our way into the basin at Brentford.

As it was still early we got the bikes out and had a ride along the Thames path to Richmond, before a cheeky pint at the Sam Smith's pub in Isleworth, by which time the tide was well on its way out.

The following day we repeated the bottom end of the Grand Union, which we had done before going into London, so up the Hanwell locks and across the aqueduct at Three Bridges, where the road crosses over the canal right above where the canal crosses the railway. The picture below is taken from the road bridge.

We reached Bull's Bridge, where the Paddington Arm goes off into central London, and were very happy to be carrying on northwards away from the city.

After so long in built up areas we were really looking forward to getting out into green again. Maybe that's why we resisted the 5 virtually dead straight, lock-free miles of the Slough Arm and carried on northwards.

From Harefield we shared locks with nb Bottom of Arden who was single handed (landlubber translation: a boating term meaning one person on their own, nothing to do with disabilities...) but very slick.

We made good progress up to Cassiobury Park near Watford, which is a lot nicer than it sounds. There is a whole mixture of boats at this end of the Grand Union - narrowboats, cruisers, dutch barges and even one boat/car crossbreed.

Just before Apsley we caught up with nb Bottom of Arden again and agreed to share locks the following day heading for Berkhamsted. On the way we met these two Dutch guys on their little tugs - they are apparently heading for Birmingham, then back down to Oxford before following the Thames all the way back into central London. And we felt small on the tideway..........!

We made it to Berkhamsted but it was so busy with boats we ended up doing a much longer day than any of us had in mind. By this point, the Grand Union is rapidly climbing up to the summit in the Chilterns so the locks come thick and fast.

We continued on our own the next day, climbing up the final few locks to the summit at Cowroast - a really scenic part of the GU.

We have been meaning to do some painting for a while now so crossing the three mile summit pound we were looking for the ideal spot. We found it at Bulbourne, where there was a low bank and a winding hole (so we could turn the boat to get to both sides) and, most importantly, a pub. A whole week of jobs ensued as we painted from the gunnels down on both sides, and oiled all the wood inside.

Inevitably this involves making things worse before you make them better so Pas Meche turned scruffy and spotty first.

Meanwhile, inside things got even more drastic, with a new and controversial idea in interior design - the "corridor toilet" which was invented whilst the wood in the bathroom was being oiled.

After a week of hard work Pas Meche was gleaming again and we set off down the Marsworth locks, inevitably putting the first marks into the fresh paint in the process! Victoria refused to steer on the first day with fresh paint. At Marsworth junction we turned left to detour down the Aylesbury arm. This is a narrow canal and starts with a staircase lock (two together, where the bottom gate of one is the top gate of the next with no pound in between). We like narrow canals and at least it gives the new paint a few days to harden without sharing locks with other boats.

We've made it to Aylesbury today and have really enjoyed this little detour. The canal is remote and pretty all the way to Aylesbury. The unusual thing about it is that the water tends to pour over top and bottom gates of the locks as there are no bywashes. This means you could get wet feet as you go down the locks:

Whilst the bottom gates end up with a waterfall over them as the boat comes in:

After rural calm all the way along the arm, Aylesbury basin turns out to be undergoing some major redevelopment at the moment so is not the nicest mooring in the world right now. Still, there is plenty of room and it's a good spot to explore the town from.

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